HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 6 November 2013
Nancy Mitford wrote eight novels in her lifetime, four of which were published before the war and four after. This book contains two of her pre-war novels, Christmas Pudding, which was first published in 1932 and Pigeon Pie, first published in 1940. In all honesty, they are an odd pairing, despite the fact that their titles tie them together. Christmas Pudding contains some characters from her first ever novel, Highland Fling (1931) and Pigeon Pie - a romp about spy rings in the period of the so-called 'phoney war' would make more sense with Wigs on the Green, Mitford's satirical look at 1930's fascism. That said, both novels are interesting in their own way.
Christmas Pudding, as I said previously, is Nancy Mitford's second novel and does feature some of the same characters as those who featured in her first book, "Highland Fling", although it is not a sequel and you do not need to have read that first for it to make sense. Although set during a Christmas house party, it is not particularly seasonal either, but is rather full of the minor intrigues and romances which Mitford delights in. There is a debut author, whose utterly serious novel has been hailed as a comic masterpiece, much to his distress; the fearsome Lady Bobbin and her children - beautiful but bored Philadelphia and the bizarrely named Bobby Bobbin, the charming Amabelle Fortescue and the return of Walter and Sally Monteath, a new MP who delights in the discovery he has (possibly) been targeted by bolsheviks, plus many others who delight in names such as Squibby, Biggy and Maydew... This is not Mitford's greatest novel, but, even not yet at her best, she is still better than most other writers. There are unsuitable love affairs, oddly pragmatic advice, bizarre characters and a lot of fun packed into this novel, which looks at the world Nancy Mitford knew imtimately and wrote about with such detail you feel almost nothing missed that sharp, satirical eye.
Pigeon Pie was written before Christmas 1939, although published in 1940, and concerns Lady Sophia Garfield during the time period when war had only just been declared. She lives with her husband, Sir Luke, a German sympathiser, who feels let down by the outbreak of hostilities between England and Germany. Sophia and Luke are fond of each other, but it is a fairly open marriage and she often has her admirer Randolph in attendance, while Sir Luke has the company of Florence Turnbull. When Randolph says that Sophia must do her bit, she joins a First Aid Post (despite her reluctance to look at peoples knees) and determines to do her best. It is the time of the phoney war when, in Mitford's words, Europe seem to be picking their teams. Her flippant approach in this book and Wigs on the Green, led to them losing favour after the war. However, remember that when Mitford wrote this she had no idea of what was about to happen a few months later, either in the blitz or in the war. Her scenes of Lady Sophia waiting for an air raid to bring some excitement to her shift is actually both realistic and understandable, when neither the character nor Nancy Mitford had yet experienced the bombing that was to come. Although Lady Sophia is keen merely to enjoy as comfortable a life as possible, she is irritated by her nemesis Olga Gogothsky's boasting that she is involved in espionage. One night, attempting to creep back to bed and book, like a sensible woman, Sophia overhears something she shouldn't and realises that she is in the midst of a German spying ring. Can she be brave and resourceful enough to do something about it? This is actually one of her better pre-war novels and a great deal of fun. Sophia is a lovely character and the book well plotted and often very funny, as Lady Sophia remains blissfully aware of what is going on around her for so much of the novel. Mitford is always a very sharp and funny writer and it is good to read her lesser known pre-war novels.